One of the more intriguing chapters in Steinway history involves the company’s brief foray into the auto industry. In 1888, when William Steinway was traveling in Europe, he chanced to hear that Gottlieb Daimler of Cannstatt, Germany was experimenting with self propelled vehicles. Steinway was sufficiently intrigued with the reports, so he paid a visit of Daimler and later wrote in his diary that he had ridden “across the country” in one of Daimler’s motorized quadricycles. The ride was enough to convince him to secure American patent rights to Daimler engines and vehicles, and upon his return to the U.S. he incorporated the Daimler Motor Company.
Steinway’s first projects involving Daimler-designed engines were boats and streetcars. Ranging from 1 to 4 horsepower, the engines were manufactured in a plant in Hartford, Connecticut. After William Steinway’s death in 1896, the company was reorganized as Daimler Manufacturing and began producing small delivery trucks at a factory on Long Island. In 1905, the company offered to build an exact copy of the 50-horsepower Mercedes offered by its European counterpart. The luxury car featured “all necessary improvements,” including a tire repair kit, a horn, two sidelights, two gas headlights, and “one tail-light of any American make selected by the purchaser.” Also included were “an assortment of spare parts more frequently needed, like valve and igniter springs.” The price was an exorbitant $7,500. Consider that at the time, the retail price of a Steinway “D” concert grand was a mere $1,200. (Today, the retail price of a Steinway Model ‘D’ concert grand is $118,00)
Only a few “American Mercedes” were ever built. Mercedes of North America is not sure of the exact number. In 1907, fire gutted the factory and, lacking William Steinway’s intensity and vision, the company ceased operations.